Factories for creativity

Every day millions of people around the world go to one place: the office. Why? Technology has freed knowledge workers from the commute and the cubicle, and no one has their best ideas at their desk – and we’ll all be replaced by robots soon anyway. But the office continues to occupy a hallowed place in the corporate mindset and, if anything, a company’s premises are becoming even more essential to its identity and culture. In this article for issue 03 of The Possible, the thought leadership magazine that my company Wordmule produces for WSP, I explored the future of the workplace in an AI era.

“They looked at me, flabbergasted. They said ‘we never do anything for an entire afternoon’”

Education is a booming sector, thanks to a growing global population with a thirst for knowledge. But how can today’s schools and universities prepare for a world that doesn’t yet exist? In the latest issue of The Possible, the thought leadership magazine my company Wordmule produces for WSP, I compiled this 14-page infographic feature on the many challenges that the Fourth Industrial Revolution presents to educators around the world. What should next-generation learning spaces look like, how can we pay for a transformation on this scale, and how do you teach a digital native anything when they can just Google it?

Secret servers

They may be as vast as an Amazon distribution centre, as energy-hungry as a steelworks, and as critical as a power station or major hospital. Yet many of us will never have seen a data centre – or never noticed one. And that’s exactly how their owners want it. That’s because data centres are the internet. They are “the cloud”. They are the huge, humming sheds through which every email, Google search, online transaction, Netflix movie and Donald Trump tweet must pass as it circles the earth. Just a few minutes of downtime could be disastrous for the companies, governments and financial markets that rely on them, so data centres are designed to be constantly operational, and protected from every conceivable threat, natural or manmade. Anonymity is the first step in a rigorous high-security philosophy that leaves nothing to chance. In this feature for Modus, the magazine of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, I spoke to the property professionals working in this specialised, sensitive market.

What this fortress approach can’t ensure is the cyber-security of the data within – arguably a much greater risk, as illustrated by the unprecedented cyber-attack last October that disrupted services across Europe and the US. After all, if you had the choice of mounting a Mission Impossible-style break-in, or hacking from the comfort of your armchair, which would you choose?

Modus_April 2017 cover

“Do academics do gnomes?”

“I’ll be honest: the gnomes keep me up at night worrying,” admits Professor Andrew Hudson-Smith, director of the Bartlett’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, or CASA, at University College London. “Is it academic? Do academics do gnomes?” On the desk in front of him sits a 3D-printed gnome of the garden variety, unpainted and not yet fitted with the Bluetooth transmitter that will replace its feet. “Probably not,” he concludes. “It’s probably frowned upon.”

CASA, however, does do gnomes. When it’s finished, this one and 29 clones will sit in solar-powered mushroom homes amongst the shrubbery of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London. They will be the most visible elements of a vast technology infrastructure underpinning the cutting-edge “Smart Park” project, which will have ubiquitous wifi, superfast broadband and a dense mesh of sensors monitoring everything from temperature and humidity, to the movement of crowds and even their emotions. Over the next decade, CASA will collect and analyse this data in order to understand and transform how people use the space and, looking further ahead, plan the smart urban districts of the future. I wrote this article about it for the Bartlett Review 2016.

The Possible: a thought-leadership magazine for WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff

Longstanding client WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff wanted to raise its profile as a thought leader in its chosen fields, so the global marketing team commissioned my company, Wordmule, to produce a new client publication.

The Possible, issue 01The result is “The Possible”, a 68-page print magazine about the future of buildings and cities and the innovative ideas and technologies that can help them function better. It has an initial circulation of 10,000 targeted at a senior audience of architects, developers, contractors, city planners, government agencies and institutes, and building users worldwide.

To inform the magazine’s content, and the company’s thought leadership strategy more broadly, we conducted 30+ in-depth interviews with the company’s clients and partners around the world, as well as speaking to specialists and experts among its 36,000 employees. We then planned, commissioned, wrote and edited the articles, and managed the project throughout, working with creative agency Supermassive and printer Greenshires. The first issue of The Possible was published in November 2016, and the second is due out in spring 2017.

The first issue included articles by a diverse range of global contributors, as well as in-depth features on adapting healthcare and the built environment for an ageing demographic; modular construction and encouraging creativity in the workplace, and a stunning cover illustration by Noma Bar.

Read more about the project on the Wordmule website.

Spot the difference

The construction industry’s luddite reputation is well deserved, but it’s modernising fast. It’s had no choice since the government set a deadline for every publicly procured project to be delivered using building information modelling from 2016. BIM is CAD on steroids – a detailed computer model backed by a comprehensive database with information on every building component. But does the finished jigsaw ever look like the picture on the box? It turns out that it does. At Telford Homes’ first BIM project, the mechanical and electrical engineers followed the model to the letter, with the result that the finished plant room looks strikingly similar (if a little bit grubbier). I asked them how they managed it in this case study for the BIM+ website.

What the plant room at at Telford Homes' Tweed House development looks like in the BIM model...
What the plant room looks like in the Autodesk Revit model…

... And the same plant room in real life.  Pictures courtesy of Telford Homes
… And the same plant room in real life.
Pictures courtesy of Telford Homes

Plumbing in cyberspace

Building Information Modelling, or BIM, is the biggest thing to happen to the construction industry in a generation. By allowing project teams to create complete virtual models of a building before they get anywhere near the site, it promises to dramatically improve speed, efficiency and reliability, eliminating expensive mistakes, and enabling better facilities management and, eventually, demolition too. But so much change is inevitably perceived as a threat too: to people’s jobs, to long-established practices, and to traditional definitions of legal responsibility when things do go wrong (because innovative new ways of working always mean innovative new ways of cocking things up). In less than three years, teams working on every centrally procured government project will have to use BIM, which means that construction firms across the industry – large and small – need to start implementing it now. This 16-page supplement, which I edited and partly wrote for Building magazine (sponsored by technology vendor Autodesk), explains how they can do it.